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Twins draft high school shortstop Royce Lewis with top pick

Royce Lewis pulled in a grounder during the Boras Classic. Lewis of JSerra was picked by the Minnesota Twins with the No. 1 overall selection in the MLB draft Monday. (Photo by Bill Alkofer,Orange County Register/SCNG)

Moments after conducting his first media conference call as the Twins’ No. 1 overall draft pick, Royce Lewis shared some definite plans to celebrate.

“I might go bowling, eat some cake with the fam and I’m definitely going to jump in the pool right now,” the high school shortstop from San Juan Capistrano, Calif., said early Monday evening. “That’s the three things on my mind right now.”

Sixteen years had passed since the Twins last held the top pick in baseball’s June amateur draft, so they milked the suspense until the final hour. In some respects they made Lewis a compromise selection as they sought to stretch their available $14.16 million bonus pool and maximize three picks in the first 37 spots.

Mike Radcliff, Twins vice president of player personnel, called Lewis “one of elite athletes” of any draft and said his speed is near the top of the scouting scale. The organization believes he will hit for power as he adds strength to his 6-foot-1, 190-pound frame.

“We see this guy as an impact player on both sides of the ball,” Radcliff said. “He also has a unique ability to impact the clubhouse and the community. This guy gets it. He’s got that ‘it’ factor that a No. 1 pick needs to survive and move forward and have success at the end of the journey. He checked all the boxes for us.”

As many as seven or eight players were still under consideration for the top selection down to the final 36 hours, Radcliff said, and negotiations were held with several of those candidates. The pitching-starved Twins also gave strong consideration to Louisville left-hander/first baseman Brendan McKay, Vanderbilt right-hander Kyle Wright and high school right-hander Hunter Greene before opting for Lewis.

Lewis, who turned 18 on June 5, hit .429 as a senior with nine doubles and four home runs for JSerra Catholic High School in Orange County. Named national player of the year by the National High School Coaches Association, he impressed evaluators and teammates alike with his selfless attitude.

For the past three seasons Lewis played mostly third base and center field while others handled shortstop. Twins scouts saw enough of Lewis at shortstop during practices and on the summer circuit to believe he can stay at the demanding position long term.

“He just wants to win,” JSerra coach Brett Kay recently told the Los Angeles Times. “He wants to do everything for the team. He’s not about numbers or statistics.”

Those leadership qualities impressed the Twins enough to overlook industry concerns about Lewis’ ability to make the transition to wood bats in pro ball.

“I just treat everyone equally,” Lewis said. “We’re all equal, no matter who’s better at what sport or who’s the smarter kid in the classroom. I’m not above or below anyone. With all my teammates we have so much fun together.  We compete hard together.”

Lewis becomes the 11th first-overall pick advised by powerful agent Scott Boras. That run started in 1983 with small college right-hander Tim Belcher, who didn’t sign with the Twins. They took Joe Mauer in 2001 the only other time they held the No. 1 pick.

Slot value for the No. 1 overall pick this year is $7.77 million, but the Twins aren’t expected to pay that much to steer Lewis away from a University of California, Irvine commitment. The slot value at No. 35 is $1.94 million, while the 37th pick comes with an approved limit of $1.85 million.

The record signing bonus for a Twins draftee is the $6 million they gave high school outfielder Byron Buxton as the No. 2 overall pick in 2012. Lewis’ speed is considered a notch or two below Buxton’s but it’s still a key component of his game.

“I think you use speed for everything: defensively, offensively, and it helps with range,” Lewis said. “For sure the speed’s been there since Day 1. That’s my favorite tool, I guess you would say, because it’s always there and it never leaves you.”

Lewis, a right-handed batter who also hit a long home run out of Wrigley Field in a national all-star game last summer, is eager to show he can hit professional pitching.

“I feel like I haven’t even grown into any of my man strength yet,” he said. “I just turned 18 last week. Being young like this, it’s pretty amazing knowing I still have a lot of potential I haven’t even tapped into yet.”

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